… for wasting your company’s time

Never write an email that says ‘See below’….

In the Army it would get you kicked out! A précis of why it is unforgivable to not bother adding value when you click send.

I spent ten years as an in the British Army as an officer in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, desperately trying to learn what motivates people, how to lead and manage while surrounded by crisis and, above all else, leading by example. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has a motto: Serve to Lead, and its meaning has been debated by cadets for centuries while their interpretation of it is dissected, examined and, on occasion, rebutted. One literal interpretation is never in question, do the right thing if you want others to do the same, work for others and they will work for you.

Because somebody is watching, always. The first time you choose the easy option, because you think you’re on you’re own, you get beasted, warned, and you won’t do it again. Those who try, are cut almost immediately, as they lack a fundamental backbone, and discipline that is utterly necessary for someone who is to be entrusted with the most harrowing, humbling and life changing of responsibilities. Which is why, during my time in the Army, this very trait was looked upon, for every soldier and officer on every training exercise. To quote a Regiment (that was not my own, I admit) — Do what you ought, not what you want. Which brings me nicely back to emails…

If you ever, ever think that sending a two word email containing “See below” is acceptable, you had better be prepared for the consequences. What impression does it send, how easy does it make solving the issue, why can you not be bothered?

Impressions Count

The impression that it sends is that you are simply lazy and/or you don’t understand or even respect the issue/problem that you’ve kicked over the wall to the poor soul on the other side, blindly. You may be too busy (tough, we all are) however, your addressee will see absolutely no value added as a result of your email. Not only have you made their life deliberately more difficult, you have shot yourself in the foot, because now this person won’t bother to pay you the courtesy of a summary of what they want the next time a 10 screen long email with some nugget of actual detail hidden eight screens down is destined for you — they’ll simply click forward, and write ‘See below. The miserable soldier described above works their backside off for their chain of command because that chain of command earned it, by setting the example to be followed. You have just communicated to the great and good that you should not be followed into so much as a tiddlywinks competition, let alone respected and worked for as a leader.

Get to the Issue

Insofar as you haven’t understood the problem, do you fully grasp the impact of it not being rectified? Likely not. Neither will your intended patsy who, in all likelihood will either a) have to spend far too long reading an overly verbose stream of garbage hoping against hope that they spot the ‘what’, which you carelessly omitted from your homage to failed delegation; or b) spot something, completely unrelated to what you need done; thinking this to be said ‘what’, only to fall flat on their face in solving the problem. Likely both of the above will occur and you will end up with the wrong thing being done, too bloody late to to do anything about it.

Look in the Mirror

It’s done, your minion messed up and only you are to blame Your project is on fire, upside down and shortly about to explode, showering you in a confetti of your own laziness — why did you do it? Why did you not just take the little time needed to write a short summary of what the problem was, point to the exact email with the details (your mail client likely has a highlight option) and initial course of action and give your poor, failed addressee a fighting chance? This is the time for reflection.

A leader of any kind welcomes success, but embraces failure; for it is here where he/she learns most; and for you school is in session.

Was it time? If so — careless, but more forgivable. Was it however, just what you do? Do you see a long email trail containing a difficult subject in which you are not regularly versed and immediately think TLDR? Do you always take the shortcut, skip the steps that you know should be taken? If this is you, and you believe that it is somebody else’s job to dissect the problem for you and solve with less time and knowledge than you had, then you are quite simply unfit of the position in which you find yourself.

Whether it’s digesting an email, checking your rifle, or setting an example of any kind — do what you ought, not what you want.